May 26, 2006

How to overtake

I’ll divide the overtake into stages, although you’ll find that in real life (or in the matrix, if you’re that sort of person) they overlap considerably.

Stage 1: Assessment
This is when you’re basically concerned with just find out whether it is possible to overtake or not. What you do is to look forward, judge your speed, your acceleration in the current gear, the speed of the vehicle(s) you are about to pass, and whether there is enough space to pull the whole thing off and tuck back in or not.

Common mistakes: Many riders run right up to the bumper of the car ahead at this stage. It’s not worth it. First of all, running that close affects your sightlines. If you can’t see ahead, you cannot make an assessment. Second, if the car guy suddenly spots you, you might scare him. If he panic and stands on the brakes, you’ll be standing before the pearly gates with the expletive still coming out. Third, if the chap behind you also closes up, expecting you to overtake, you’re now completely out of space.

Look out for: Be clear that if you cannot see the space, it does not exist. No assumptions. This needs loads of discipline when you’re in the twisties, having fun, and end up getting stuck behind a truck. Be very careful. Mountain roads are fun, but unforgiving as well.

Stage 2: The prep
You have established that the overtake is possible. Now you need to shift to the right gear. This will be the gear that gives you the acceleration you need to get past. Ideally, you should not need a shift while overtaking. If you mis-shift when in the opposing lane, you could be seriously hampering your overtake, and crucially, risking a crash. Then you have to establish that you’re about to pass. This means an indicator blinking so the chap behind you knows what you’re up to. And for the chap in front, it means a flash of the headlamp, and if he still doesn’t notice you, a polite ‘I’m here’ honk. Personally, I just switch on my headlamp (its technically illegal to run your lights in India. I usually run the parking lights anyway) and leave it on low beam till I’m back in my lane.

Common mistakes: Remember you’re honking a ‘I’m here’ not a ‘OI JACKASS, WHY THE F HAVE YOU NOT CHECKED YOUR BLOODY MIRROR AFTER I SWITCHED MY BLEEDING LIGHTS ON?’ You want him to cooperate, remember, not speed up while you’re out in the opposing lane to teach you a lesson in manners. While you’re confirming that both drivers ahead and behind you know your intentions, you still have to hold you station. You can move into the right wheeltrack (for India) of the car ahead, but you will want to stay in the lane enough for the chap behind to not close the ‘escape’ space on your left. This will also allow him to see your brake lamps, and that of the car ahead of you, just in case.

Look out for: Indications for either of the drivers advising you not to pull out. The driver ahead may be planning to overtake as well, or you may be about to be passed. Always follow these indications. Don’t rush overtakes. Going down too many gears in the ‘box. It’s a common problem for those of us who ride a variety of machines, rather than just one. For all the bikes that have all the shifts in one direction (all up or all down) consciously check that you haven’t landed yourself in neutral. Also, scan his mirrors to check he has seen you. Eye contact is best.

Stage 3: The pull out
Now you are actually going to pull out of your lane and make the overtake. Begin with a mirror scan, followed by an over-the-shoulder lifesaver check. This is your last check to ensure the way is clear. You will want to accelerate as hard as possible past the cars. But remember, first the steering input to reach the opposing lane, and then the gas action. Most motorcycles (especially 11 bhp and above) have enough grunt to get past most car traffic, so don’t sweat it.

Common mistakes: ‘Gassed it first and bashed into car before I could reach the other lane,’ is a common one. You want to reach close to the middle of the opposing lane, not squeeze by with inches to spare, so the steering input needs to be calibrated to that need.
Don’t go too close to the car ahead at all. They could have stuff sticking out that you haven’t spotted that can be injurious. Lifesaver is done, but lip-serviced it. Turned the head but didn’t actually look. This is very easy to do to yourself. You’ve been warned.

Look out for: Gravel, mud or potholes in your path to the middle lane, they can cause your overtake to go awry.

Stage 4: The overtake
This is the stage when you are running in the opposing lane. Keep the headlights on, the indicator blinking and throttle as far open as you can. Don’t dawdle or make slow, long overtakes. They’re hazardous to you. Even in tight traffic, you may not go full throttle, but you still do don’t linger parallel to the other car/traffic. Remember, you’re in their death zone! And keep your eyes peeled for cars about to pull into your path (especially from your lane) and oncoming traffic.

Common mistakes: Stages 1, 2 and 3 weren’t properly executed and you need to abort the overtake. Roll off the throttle/brake gently and pull back into your gap. Most cars will give you space on the highway, in traffic, you will be honked down ignominiously. Too much throttle, bike spins up! Won’t happen unless you’re riding in the wet, or on a 100 bhp machine, but it can, so be smooth with the throttle.

Look out for: Trees/hedges on the other side of the road obscuring traffic/hazards/sightlines. Cover your brakes now, you’ll need it soon.

Stage 5: Pull back in
The overtake is done. You return to your lane. Sounds simple, but be careful. First of all, if you’ve just passed a string of cars, you need to verify that the last guy you passed knows you’re coming in ahead of him. Whenever possible, give him space. You want to pull in at least two to three car lengths ahead. So that when you brake down to the cruising speed, you don’t spook him. I normally plan to roll back into the lane on the trailing throttle, shedding speed gently down to the cruise speed. Once there, check that all indicators are off, lights are off (in India. I come back to the parking light mode).

Common mistakes: Come in too hot, and too close to the car ahead and stand on the brakes and cause a pile-up. It has happened before, you know.

Look out for: The last car you pass can sometimes be accelerating to close the very gap you’re planning to tuck into, so make sure he knows you’re coming. Honk, light and hand indications are all tools to use if needed. Be polite. A middle finger is not going to encourage him to accommodate you.

1. Traffic comes up on you suddenly.
Don’t panic. Brake, and tuck in as close as you can to the car you’re passing, still going a bit faster/slower (depending on which gap is closer to you) than him if possible. Usually, the driver on the other side will pull away just enough to give you space. It helps to get noticed in these situations… you did have your lights on, right? Tuck back in, take a deep breath and continue in your lane, until you’ve calmed down. If need be, stop for a coffee break. Or call it a day, find a place to stay, park the bike, have a beer and continue tomorrow.

2. Surface changes between your lane and opposing lane
I’ve had to make a dry-wet transition on the pull-in once on my RD350. The front was fine and the rear was spinning. I was crossed-up for almost a hundred metres before the rear found enough traction to tuck in… There isn’t much you can do except be smooth in the first place. If it is spinning, shift weight backwards, rather than close the throttle first to try and sort it.

3. Vengeful cagers
If they resent you overtaking, and many do, they will try to block the pass. If the car ahead or the car behind pulls out while you are too, pull back in, maintaining their speeds roughly. Let them get on with it. Back off or even stop to let them go away. If the car in your lane speeds up to block the gap you were planning to pull into, look for a gap ahead and whether you have space to get to it. In not, roll off the throttle, brake if you have to and drop back.


Elton said...

very informative and nicely written. am gonna be learning to ride a bike soon and this was quite helpful ^_^

rearset said...

All the best, then! And welcome to the er... fold?